Mar 2016 TBRTwo books for two challenges today, although I will admit here that I heard about Reading Ireland Month, thought I didn’t have anything on the TBR for it, then looked down at the book I was reading at the time and caught the word “Waterford” and thought, “Oh, yes!” The other is, of course, for Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong, which I’m really enjoying – and I’ve got more Woolf coming up, having done a bit of a Kindle clicky-clicky (that doesn’t count for the TBR, right?? So here we go. Oh, a DNF, too, today. Literally, as I started it this morning between an early breakfast and a long run, and put it down almost immediately!

Virginia Woolf – “To the Lighthouse”

(Bought ??? seem to have always had it; know I read it while at university)

What CAN you say about Woolf – she’s one of those difficult ones where you write a sentence or an essay. Another point I notice with her is that, presumably because of my interest in Bloomsbury and associated characters, I do find myself thinking, “Who is this supposed to be?” when reading her books, even though I claim to cling to the “Death of the Author” way of looking at things where the author’s life Does. Not. Matter. Anyway, here goes …

A happier read than Mrs Dalloway, even though some difficult things happen, but there are obvious parallels in the central characters of a middle-class woman, worrying about her home and family, and the effect of the First World War on families and attitudes.

I hadn’t read this since university in the 1990s, and curiously, I remember writing an essay about Lily Briscoe – and I think the passages describing the process of her artistic creation (and its echoes in some passages about Mrs Ramsay herself) are some of the most effective and profound in the book – but I had set the novel in Cornwall (when it’s clearly the Hebrides and mentioned as being there), and had forgotten about the leap in time between the two main sections. I’d also forgotten the moving passages about the gradual destruction of the house, which a few reviewers have mentioned.

I found myself thinking quite a lot about the Dorothy Richardson novels I’ve been reading lately (all reviews can be found here – this search for “Dorothy Richardson” should give you all mentions of her on this blog). Like in “Pilgrimage”, the most important events happen off-stage, and marriage is looked at closely and rejected, with the bubble of romance pricked mercilessly.

The relationships of ‘peripheral’ characters – women, whether servants, servant-wives or unmarried women, and children – to the patriarchal characters, who must be pandered to and bolstered up, however unprepossessing they might be, felt key this time of reading. However, there is warmth in the portrayal of marriage, too, and I loved the passages about how Mrs Ramsay, while knowing her husband would welcome verbal expressions of love, can only express it herself through deeds – a foreshadowing of the ‘languages of love’ that people talk about now.

An absorbing read and one that took a while, for such a short book, as indeed others have mentioned.

This book would suit: It’s a good introduction to Woolf, having lots of her central themes but being understandable and with a range of characters that can be identified with or just identified as familiar.

I read this book for the #Woolfalong challenge. You can read what everyone thought about “Mrs Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse” here.

Katherine Cecil Thurston – “The Fly on the Wheel” (Virago)

(12 February 2015 – from Karen / Kaggsy)

reading ireland month

Isabel Costello, with her Spanish blood and blatant disregard for tradition and what the neighbours might say, blazes into Waterford and immediately comes up against the forces of society and the influential Carey family. She’s just got engaged to the penniless Frank Carey, and his oldest brother, Stephen, who raised his brothers in difficult circumstances, is outraged by her appearance … and horribly attracted to her.

Stephen is married and has bent himself consciously to convention, having once had wild ideas like the young lads around him now have. Mrs Power, a force stronger than that of the Careys, takes Isabel up, thinking it best to absorb her into society, but then she’s thrown into Stephen’s presence, and also Owen Power’s, who is a bit of a flirt who can make reputations in a different way from that of his mother. Stephen’s sister-in-law, Mary, is also in the mix: she’s a feminist voice and rather bitter commentator who will nonetheless grab her own chance in the marriage market, able to go only so far in defying convention herself.

When Stephen acquires a motor car, it seems to give him the recklessness he’s tamped down for years. It’s down to the saintly Father James, hub of the community for years but portrayed as a kindly force for good rather than a gossip bending people to convention, to try to sort things out. But matters come to the sort of crisis that involves late nights, long journeys on foot and chasing around the countryside, lost reputations and martyred wives. The foreshadowing of the story of Aesop’s fly on the wheel means there can only be one conclusion. A powerful psychological novel and a page-turner. I did find the author’s comments on ‘the Irish character’, especially its childishness, a bit odd, but she seems to have been Irish and to have lived there, so maybe that was more innocuous than I found it.

This book would suit: Lovers of a literary page-turner, people looking for an Irish read.

I read this book for Reading Ireland Month 2016, co-hosted by Cathy at 746 Books, although I didn’t know that was what I was doing when I started it!

Philip Hensher – “The Missing Ink” (DNF)

(28 February 2015 – from Matthew)

I was really looking forward to reading this book, subtitled, “How handwriting made us who we are”, but unfortunately it was extremely disappointing, and I didn’t get past p. 25. I’m afraid I didn’t get on with the author’s style of writing at all – he makes numerous asides and “jokes”, and, indeed, rants, which are not amusing, and in fact I found some bordering on the offensive. Interestingly, some of the reviews on Amazon (looked at afterwards) picked out the very things I didn’t like about it. I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading something that was so nasty, seemingly for effect and out of place in a book about handwriting and pens, and have put it aside.


I’m currently reading a wonderful omnibus of Debo, Duchess of Devonshire’s memoirs, which is most entertaining, warm and generous, and the second volume of Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters (review of the first volume coming next).

What are you reading? Have you read “The Missing Ink” and did you agree? Are you doing Reading Ireland or Woolfalong?